ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper activity Disorder), once called hyperkinesis or minimal brain dysfunction, is one of the most common mental disorders among children. ADHD affects 3 to 5 percent of all children, perhaps as many as 2 million American children. Two to three times more boys than girls are affected.

On the average, at least one child in every classroom in the United States needs help for the disorder. The condition often continues into adolescence and adulthood, and can cause a lifetime of frustrated dreams and emotional pain.

The diagnosis applies to children and adults who consistently display certain characteristic behaviors over a period of time. The most common behaviors fall into three categories: inattention, hyper activity, and impulsivity.

adhd kidsPeople who are inattentive have a hard time keeping their mind on any one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. They may give effortless, automatic attention to activities and things they enjoy. But focusing deliberate, conscious attention to organizing and completing a task or learning something new is difficult.

People who are hyperactive always seem to be in motion. They can’t sit still. Sitting still through a lesson can be an impossible task. Hyperactive children squirm in their seat or roam around the room. Or they might wiggle their feet, touch everything, or noisily tap their pencil. Hyperactive teens and adults may feel intensely restless.

Research shows that attention disorders tend to run in families, so there are likely to be genetic influences. Children who have ADHD usually have at least one close relative who also has the condition. And at least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth bear children who have ADHD. Even more convincing: the majority of identical twins share the trait. At the National Institutes of Health, researchers are also on the trail of a gene that may be involved in transmitting ADHD in a small number of families with a genetic thyroid disorder.

Three ADHD medications in the class of drugs known as stimulants seem to be the most effective in both children and adults. These are methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine or Dextrostat), and pemoline (Cylert). For many people, these medicines dramatically reduce their hyper activity and improve their ability to focus, work, and learn. The medications may also improve physical coordination, such as handwriting and ability in sports.

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